The democracy has a right to answer questions, but it has no right to ask them. It is still the political aristocracy that asks the questions. And we shall not be unreasonably cynical if we suppose that the political aristocracy will always be rather careful what questions it asks...the powerful class will choose two courses of action, both of them safe for itself, and then give the democracy the gratification of taking one course of the other. GKC, Daily News, July 16, 1910Some would say this was largely true in America as well, and still true today. Nor should we assume that Trump is a great exception to this, though that is what his supporters hoped for. As a real-estate developer, he is also from one of the American aristocracies. We should be glad that we have multiple aristocracies instead of just one, I suppose.
Chesterton believed that both socialism and capitalism degraded the people and made them servile. He believed in the good of private property, and that it should be widely distributed. The endgame of the industrial revolution and the socialist revolution, he thought, was wealth for the few and slavery for the rest. If we had him here, wouldn't we say that it hadn't worked out that way? We have a free market heavily laced with socialism, and its failures may well be the "crony" part of crony capitalism, the corruption and abuse. Yet through it all, wouldn't we say that even the poor live in great prosperity compared to what he knew in 1910, and the middle classes do own property? None goes hungry, all are clothed and sheltered, all have education and some legal protection. In some cases these items are of lesser quality, and the poor cannot be certain that next week will not upend what little they have - yet they do have, and we do go on. Nor does the great mass of men appear to be degraded, compared to what we know rural survival was like in the decades before and even after he wrote this. What, Gilbert, is degraded about us? If you would insult us, at least tell us what it is we are doing wrong.
I don't know what GKC would answer. Whether he would brush away our claim of education by declaring that much of it is of poor quality, or admire that we have indeed done a good thing I can't guess. Whether he would think our prosperity a welcome example of the poor being fed and clothed or an incitement to greed and indulgence is beyond my knowledge as well.
Yet I do think he would point to our church attendance and the breakup of our families as serious losses. I think also that he would deplore thinking of ourselves as a society instead of a nation. Societies have unclear boundaries, people move in and out, and the obligations we have to each other are somewhat temporary and imposed from above. Nations have boundaries, and members, and the obligations we have are more intuitive than catalogued.